Heard about this wacky little CX race that Team Mack puts on near Springfield, and considering the cyclocross season really hasn’t ended mentally (nor financially) for me, I felt we had to do it.  Knowing Ben Popper never turns down an opportunity for a bike race and Jacob was primed to try his new Redline, we were committed.  It’s a bit of a hike, so we stayed-over in Peoria at my friend JT’s.  Not only did he open his house for us, he fed us, bought my Indy Fab and agreed try his hand at CX as well.  We had a nice evening with Kim, JT and the kids and we reciprocated with a few of our namesakes finest.

Got up early to 3” of fresh, wet, heavy snow.  We packed up the bikes and gear and headed the 60+ miles south to New Salem State Park.  It was foggy all the way and raining on-and-off.  The course was still being set up when we got there, so I felt bad for the juniors as they were first off, and nobody pre-rode it to pack the snow (slush) down.  Ben and Jacob did a lap pre-ride and Ben says “you’re gonna love it”.  The course was a bit short, but not without its challenges.  The start was a sloppy grass section leading to a 180 into 2 barriers, some twisties, a reasonable asphalt straight into wooded, deep, sloppy, slushy double track.  The ‘technical’ section was a steady gradual left bend that went icy, rooty, and off-camber all at the same time leading to an icy drop with a hard right at the bottom of the hill.  This was followed by sand-like slush into a climb to two more barriers before heading to the front straight again.  As I was attempting to warm up, it started raining pretty steady...it was 35 degrees on the nose, so I threw another layer on and lined up for the start of the masters 30/40/50.

Were off...led the pack to the first turn and through the barriers – botched the remount and immediately went down in front of the pack (and spectators).  Got up quickly and regained the lead by the end of the asphalt straight.  Put a gap on the field in the technical section and the plan for the downhill was to stay far to the right on the ‘dirt’ as opposed to the snow. Well, the dirt was ‘mud’, and as I got near the bottom, the rear wheel kicked left and when it hooked up, it sent me right, straight into the trees.  No damage (other than my ego), but I got tangled up in the saplings and two guys got by.  I caught and passed them on the climb, and tried to build a gap again.  We had seven laps of this icy slog, and as the rain kept coming down harder, it got sloppier.

A ‘racing line’ was starting to form, and I was really getting comfy with the new Ridley. I seemed to have a decent gap on the field of 15 or so, but would make a mistake of some type every lap.  Either I’d trip on one of the 5 barriers, or botch a remount, but I maintained my momentum. But...3 laps to go, I start hearing “go Robo, go – you’re catching him” from the Team Mack contingent, and I see that this Rob “Robo” Brokaw dude is catching me.  I was killing it (and Robo) on the technical sections, but he was closing on the hill run up and the section to the front straight.  However – I knew there was only one line, so he still had to get by me somewhere, or I had to screw up bad.  Bell lap – I put my head down and pinned it going to the woods. Took the 90 left, sprinted to the single barrier (the only one that I nailed every lap), sailed over it and totally went on my ASS on the remount...arrf!  I get up, and there’s Robo!  I get on, pin it again and I gap him in the tech section.  As I run up the hill, I look back and no sign of Robo, but I know he seems to gain on me here, so I keep it pegged.  We hit the sloppy straight and I hammer it for my first of firsts...First place in 50+, first overall for 30/40/50 Masters, first win on my new Ridley and the first win of the season for HAC in the smokin’ new kit (thanks, Naz!)!

The open race was next – which I had entered, but as I stood there in three-inches of freezing cold mud and slush, soaked to the bone I started to shiver – to the bone, and pulled out as I wore my cross skinsuit, but only had a dry pair of bibs to change into.  I opted get warm and watch Ben kill it with JT and the boys.

Speaking of firsts...Jacob got his first podium and first of the season for the team, my friend JT won the novice class (his first CX race) handily on my trusty old IF, then Ben won some cold-hard-cash in the open race – a complete success for the crew!

Props to Team Mack for toughing it out for 23 years straight for this event – will be back to defend next year!

- Al Thom